If you are new to celebrating the holiday season alone as a parent, whether due to a recent separation or divorce or a newly empty nest, there are no two ways about it: This is likely an extremely challenging and emotional time. The holidays are for cheer and memory-building while surrounded by loved ones, right? And for you, those loved ones have included your kids — until now. It can feel like a real a wake-up call the first time you’re faced with navigating a particular holiday on your own.
But it doesn’t have to be as scary as it seems. There are several healthy ways to cope during this time, to still remain a huge part of your children’s lives and holiday — all while taking advantage of some much-needed solo time for everything from reflection to self-care to socializing with friends. Before you know it, your first kid-free holiday might turn out to be… fun (*gasp!*).
It’s 2018, mamas. If kids are spending a holiday at your ex’s, at college or away with friends, that’s absolutely no reason you can’t “spend” some of that holiday with them too — virtually. “Calling or texting your child helps you stay connected. Take pictures or videos of what you are doing and share it with your children if possible. Tell them you love them and miss them. Wish them a fun and happy time wherever they are spending their holiday,” counselor Casey Lee tells SheKnows.
But don’t let your kids think you’re pained by their absence. Put on a smile when communicating with them, and make it a positive moment. “Make sure that they are protected from feeling guilty and responsible for the pain that is caused by not being able to be with them during the holidays,” she says.
Don’t just sit at home alone
For crying out loud. Why would you do that? “Surround yourself with other family and friends who care about you. Reach out to them so you are not alone,” says Lee. “Being with other people you love, who will listen and support you, can bring some comfort,” she says. It also helps take your mind off the sadness of not being with your children. You’ll be too distracted by all the good vibes around you.
Be flexible to limit stress
Trying to demand more time (whether phone time or face time) with your kids when it’s the other parent’s holiday turn or when your adult kids have simply chosen another place to celebrate that day only adds stress. “Be happy with the time you’re given. If you can’t spend Christmas Day with your children but can see them the 26th, 27th or perhaps New Year’s Day, it’s important to find a way to be content with that,” marital and family lawyer Charles D. Jamieson, Esq., tells SheKnows.
“Society bombards us with unrealistic images of the perfect ‘Hallmark Christmas,’ but the truth of the matter is even your traditional happy family units don’t live up to those expectations,” he says. The holidays are never going to be perfect, so you have to take full advantage of the time you do have with your children.
You may even have the opportunity to start new family traditions on the days you have with them. “As long as you make your time with them special, they won’t care if it’s their ‘second Christmas’ so to speak. They’ll love every moment they get to spend with you,” he says.
Send a gift
“If you are not granted the opportunity to see your kids at all during the holidays, you should absolutely still send them a gift. Include a card that lets them know you love them and are thinking of them even if you can’t be together,” says Jamieson. Plus, hunting down gifts for each child can be really fun — and it’s a way of feeling the love and positive emotions you have for them during the time you are apart. That connection will stay strong, regardless of proximity.
Do something for yourself
The holidays are a hectic, stressful time for anyone, and especially newly single moms and newbie empty nesters — and the expectations we place on ourselves during this season can be very overwhelming. “Remember to take care of yourself during this time and be kind to yourself. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, exercising, and take time to visit friends or other family members,” says Jamieson.
You can also try volunteering, which will take your mind off your own specific family and place it on helping others instead. “There are also so many activities [that] give back [and] organizations to get involved with during the holidays. Whether it’s helping with a toy drive, serving in a meal line or volunteering at a local animal shelter, doing good for others will take your mind off your situation and make you feel good during this troubled time,” Jamieson adds.
“It’s ok to not be ok — to miss your kids, to feel sad during the holidays or for the period you are apart. Be patient and gentle with yourself,” Emily Cosgrove, a licensed marriage and family therapist and a life coach, tells SheKnows.
“Be kind to yourself with your thoughts. Give yourself time and space to process these emotions. Things will get better with time,” she says. Focus on practicing self-care while alone. “Self-care [can] include no-social-media time, getting enough sleep, eating healthy meals before indulging in holiday treats, exercising and getting fresh air and taking vitamins — especially if you are susceptible to illness or seasonal affective disorder,” she says. “Self-care can also include setting boundaries and saying no to things that are too stressful or overwhelming,” she adds. Figure out what works for you and helps you cope during this transitional period.
If you’re alone as a parent for the holidays, look for ways to be present and connected to your kids, both when you’re with them and apart. And think of how you can be there for yourself — integrate self-care habits, think of new traditions you can start that will be special for yourself or for your family moving forward, and above all, cut yourself some slack.